Starter soil comparison

Marigold 2 comp  During the earlier, hectic transplanting period when there were thousands of plants in the basement needing moved from seedling flats to four-packs I ran out of my preferred potting soil, Pro-Mix.  There was no time to go to my usual supplier, and there was snow (It seems long ago that the roads were iffy, doesn’t it?) so instead it was a quick trip to our small town’s local hardware.  It’s the only place nearby that even carries “potting soil” now that other stores have closed so there weren’t a lot of options.  I purchased six bags of All-American Potting Soil, hurried home and transplanted marigolds.  I knew immediately upon opening the bag that this was not a good quality growing medium, but I was desperate and thought it would work for the few weeks until planting out time.  It was very black, VERY heavy with sand and dried out quickly.  A flat filled with it weight 6 times as much as usual, requiring me to use two hands to move it (normally I can carry 2 flats at once) and an extra flat underneath to help support the weight.  I only planted one tray (shown above) and used the rest of the six bags to mix with existing soil in low spots in the gardens after the snow melted.

As I read many blogs describing new gardeners’ sad experiences with dying plants, their fears that they have overwatered or underwatered, or been a “bad parent” to their baby plants, or just didn’t inherit a green thumb worries me.  Had I not been a very experienced gardener, I might not have been able to save the plants shown above.  They are not dead yet, but you can clearly see the bronzed tone to the leaves.  When it came time to set them out, it was almost impossible to move them intact.  The heavy soil fell off the few roots that existed.  Just so you can understand the difference, here’s a tray planted in a quality potting soil…same seedlings, same day, same exact growing conditions…photos taken the same day.  Marigold 1 comp  Happy, bright green foliage and a soil cube dense with roots have given these plants a great start.  It may not be inexperience or lack of a green thumb that causes gardening woes, but a low-quality basic product.  When it comes to potting soil it NEVER pays to purchase the cheapest, or to settle for an inferior product.

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Potager progress

Bed 5d  Things are popping in the potager!  A couple of small rains have really spurred crops along.  For example, last week bed 5d shown above was empty except for the row of mini tulips along the top edge.  During the week, the edging marigolds “Hot Pak Orange” were added.  The third planting of beans (“Provider”) have not only emerged, but are 3″ tall.  The center row has been filled with the last planting of broccoli “Artwork Baby.”  And a bonus self-seeded lettuce appeared on the left edge.  Lettuce, self-seeded  Sadly, the tulips could not handle the heat surge, the petals fell, so the bloom stalks were clipped.  Happily, the “Black Seeded Simpson” lettuce that I sprinkled on the snow back in February are merrily growing and will soon hide the fading tulip foliage, plus provide lots of tasty salads and wilted lettuce meals.  Of course there are other lettuces in the potager.  One of my favorite mini butterheads “Little Gem” is beginning to form heads.  Lettuce Little Gem  In the upper left triangle is bok choy.  The inverted space between the lettuce and bok choy was originally planted with some old “Little Finger” carrots, which never germinated.  Recently the space was replanted with “Red Core Chantenay” carrots mixed with “French Breakfast” radishes which are just emerging.  Sometimes planting old seed just doesn’t work.  The upper right corner was seeded with some really old arugula seed, which came up very sparse.  It’s getting late for arugula seeding, so something else will go in that space.  The comparison lettuce is “Victoria” shown below, seeded and transplanted the same time as “Little Gem.”  Lettuce Victoria  The inverted V in this  bed is “Patterson” onions grown from seed and transplanted into the bed.  Upper left corner is the red-stemmed Italian dandelion, and the upper right triangle is chard “Bright Lights” but only the orange seedlings.  I gave all the other colors to the garden club plant sale!  Most exciting to me are the first pea blooms.  Pea blossom  This is “Strike” which is a new, early variety for the grow list this year.  It’s the first of four varieties planted April 8th to bloom.  Last year’s first pea blossoms opened on 5/17 so it’s apparent that crops are catching up to the “norm” quickly.  The two mini-cabbages grown for comparison are beginning to grow nicely.  Cabbage Gonz  I’ve grown “Gonzales” the past two years and been happy with them.  Their small size is perfect for a two-family household and they don’t take up lots of space.  The comparison crop is “Katarina” Cabbage Katarina which seems to be a bit larger and definitely a paler green color.  Both were seeded and transplanted the same day for trial purposes.  However, the number of plants differs because the “Gonzales” seed was leftover so I seeded more in case not all germinated, but they did!  I don’t want too many cabbages all ready at once until fall, when I’ll make kraut but I may be making a batch earlier this year.  And lastly, my lone “Tangerine” poppy that bloomed last year came back.  I’d hoped it had self-seeded generously, but once again there is only one plant.  Poppy  This summer I’ll collect some seeds and give it some help!  Overall, I’m terribly pleased with the potager.  Already over 8 lbs. of produce has been harvested, compared to 2 1/2 lbs. last year!  May is off to a great start, and so is the potager!

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What a difference a rain makes!

Iris Old Gold & columbine  Central Indiana is already 3″ behind “normal” rainfall for May.  It allowed the farmers to get the planting done, so that was a blessing but once they were finished everyone began looking to the skies.  Rain was occasionally in the forecast, but kept going around our area.   The unusual heat (it broke a 137 year-old record for high temperature in May!) contributed to the need for moisture.  Gardening consisted basically of watering, watering, watering but only in the potager.  The rest of the gardens were on their own.  Even with watering, plant growth in the potager was slow.  But finally yesterday I could feel rain in the air.  The wind picked up, and all the plants trembled in happy anticipation!  It wasn’t a big rain, only 1/4″ or so and short in duration but any real rain accomplishes what hours of watering cannot.  This morning I could “row” the soybeans in the field next door.  Plants in the flower gardens that had been droopy were standing tall.  As I walked past the Deck Garden to the potager, the combination of “Old Gold” irises and “American” columbine caught my eye.  I don’t generally use any red in my borders and beds but I allow this native columbine to self-seed here and there because it always blooms early, providing much-needed food for the hummingbirds who normally return about the time it blooms.  And, it’s really not a red-red but leaning toward orange.  I like the way the bits of gold in the columbine blooms echo the falls of the iris.

In the potager, I swear the tomatoes, broccoli and cabbages had doubled in size since yesterday!  Some of the violas and calendulas that have been dug out by raccoons multiple times and were looking ready to give up yesterday actually looked perky today.  Succession plantings of beets, carrots, peas and beans were pushing through the rain-softened soil.  The first potato plantings (French Fingerling) were towering out of their pots, so I added several more inches of soil inside each one.  The second planting of peas now needed support, so a line of sticks were added.  Lettuces that had been limp in the heat despite my watering look crisp and seem to be growing even as I stare, especially the “fancy” ones I picked from Territorial seeds.

Best of all, those glimpses of red had plumped into this first bouquet of radishes from the potager.  Radish 1st 5-14-18  And it was exciting to see the infant carrots within the same row getting their true leaves.  The radishes have done their job of sheltering the carrots well, and will now be harvested to give the carrots more room to grow.

It’s exciting to see the sudden growth everywhere, and even more exciting because today instead of watering, I can plant, seed, weed and deadhead the tulips that surrendered to the heat instead of dragging a hose.  What a difference a rain makes!

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Six on Saturday: May 12

After a very slow start, Spring is catching up to “normal” although we are still a bit behind.  It’s been warm and dry for several days, allowing the farmers to get their fields planted after a late start.  Yesterday, I noticed the field on the corner has enough seedlings emerged that I could “row” the corn!  In my gardens, the first “Old Gold” iris opened today.  Iris old gold compressed  It’s not as showy as some of the newer modern ones, but it was a “pass-along” plant from a good friend, so I value it, plus it never seems to be bothered by iris borers!  For comparison, in 2016 it bloomed May 1st and in 2017 on May 2.  In the potager, the chamomile just opened with its dainty white daisies.  Chamomile compressed  I’m not a fan of chamomile tea, but I harvest the flowers to use in a delicious tea bread.  These plants self-seeded in the potager’s interior borders, which German chamomile will easily do if it has a sunny, well-drained situation.  I let it spread here and there as a filler until other plants fill in, and then pull out excess.   I love the Tulip batalinii “Bright Gem” that line the potager’s main path’s edges.  They bloomed on March 16, 2016 and on April 19, 2017.  Tulip edging 5-8-18  They are quite long-lasting and have amazingly large flowers for their total size.  Tulip edging close 5-8-18  To their left you can see the “Penny Orange”violas.  Soon, a “Hot Pak Orange” marigold will be added between each viola.  On the right, the first “Green Arrow” peas are beginning to climb the fencing.  The “Royal Burgundy” beans planted on April 22 are growing nicely now Beans, RB 5-11-18 at the left edge of this bed.  The newly planted “Strike” beans are just breaking ground on the right in this photo.  Beans emerging 5-11-18  And the second planting of peas are coming through as well.   In the front section of the potager, the diagonal and triangle patterns are beginning to emerge, but better in some areas than others.  The “showy” triangle is made of “Little Gem” lettuces that began life in the greenhouse.  Potager patterns 5-11-18  In another bed, the radishes are beginning to show color and should be ready to harvest soon.  Last year the first radish was harvested April 26.Radish 5-11-18     Although it’s a late start, I’m not unhappy with this season to date.  Last year, we had a killing frost on May 8th that ruined many things, so I’ll take a slow, steady warm-up any time!  That’s my “Six” for this Saturday.  Visit The Propagator for many more contributions to this meme.


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Coon damage 5-8-18  This was the 8th morning in a row that I’ve looked out the French doors to see this!  Every day I replant the container, sometimes having to replace flowers that are too damaged to stay.  Every night a raccoon digs it all out.  Damage is not confined to just this planter, but the other 5 planters on the deck are also targets.  Coon damage 2   They knocked over the smaller ceramic planter near the garage side door and now it’s cracked.  Coon damage 3 And they are not content to just dig in containers.  Saturday night raccoons dug out nearly all the things I’d planted earlier in that day in the potager …64 snapdragons, 96 calendulas, a dozen broccoli, several tomatoes and over 40 of the viola edging plants.  That was the last straw!  So, I set a live-trap, baiting it with popcorn, and caught a raccoon which was relocated far, far away.  The next morning all the prior damage was repeated!  They even began digging out the shallots that have been in the ground a month!  Coon shallot  The trap was re-set and baited with popcorn and peanut butter….and another raccoon was caught and taken for a joy-ride.  But apparently his friends had another busy night.  Look over all the photos again, because that is what I saw this morning, plus all the things I planted yesterday in the potager   Coon 4 were lying on the ground.  Flats were tipped over.  Coon 5  And, they dumped most of the containers that were by the patio doors as well.  I’ve borrowed a second trap from my neighbors.  This is WAR!

On the plus side…did you see how beautifully green the grass is?  And the fact that it is warm enough to even plant the containers is wonderful.  See, I’m trying to be positive!

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Catching up?

I’m speaking about Mother Nature and Spring, although with good weather I’m catching up a bit as well.  Just a few days ago, we were 3 weeks behind “normal” and suddenly it feels like summer has arrived!  Things are changing at breakneck speed.  The daffodils opened by the dozens.  There are many varieties in the gardens.  The “earlies” are already finished, and the “mids” are fading, so now it is the “lates” turn to shine.  Of this group my favorites are “British Gamble” Daffy British Gamble compressed which began blooming 4/21/18 (4/2/17); Congress 4/25/18 (4/7/17) and Daffy Kedron Kedron (left) opened 4/24/18 (4/6/16, 4/6/17!) The first hyacinth appeared 4/25/18 (4/9/17) but it’s already gone.  Finally, there are hellebores here and there in the Fairy Garden.  I think I need to move them to a spot that gets sunlight earlier in the year.  And the first tulip opened,  “Apricot Beauty” 4/21/18 (4/9/17) to be quickly joined so that all of them are in color at once.  Not exactly according to plan, but I’ll take it.  The strawberries, gooseberries, white lilac and pear tree that just began flowering yesterday (May 3) bloomed April 15 last year, but at this point I’m delighted to just have any decent weather!  Potager rows 5-3-18 As you can see above, the potager’s rows are becoming apparent, especially those baby radish seedlings emerging above.  Last year the first radish was HARVESTED 4/26, so that won’t be happening this year.  However, those Royal Burgundy beans I gambled on by planting mid-April are springing to life!  We’ve already harvested our first spinach for a tasty frittata as well as Spinach 5-3-18  a variety of herbs on several occasions.  The first potato broke ground in its pot and is suddenly 8″ tall!  The peas are emerging, as you can see here.  Potager west half 5-3-18 The French Tarragon made it through the winter and is growing quickly.  I need to take some cuttings, as I’ve learned over the years that these first 2-3″ of brand new growth will root much quicker and easier than later cuttings.French Tarragon compressedThankfully, the potager is beginning its season of productivity.  There’s still plenty to do.  In 2016, all the gardens were cleaned, edged and mulched by March 24.  Last year they were all done by the mid-April.  Although it’s been warmer (finally!) it’s also been raining.  In my younger days I’d work despite the rain, but now I choose not to get soaked and miserable.  However, on pretty days I’ve worked hard, so that as of today the Front Garden, Front Island, Potager exterior and interior borders, North Island and most of the Deck Garden are cleaned and mulched.  Deadheading has already started to take more time, as well as mowing, so no edging has even been begun!  There is still half a row of berries to clean.  All of the Cutting Garden and Fairy Garden needs cleaning and mulching, and the Addition Garden has been cleaned, but not mulched.  Hmmm!  I think I’d better get outdoors while it’s not raining.  There’s still LOTS of catching up to do!





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Six on Saturday: April 28

What a difference a few days of sunshine and warmer temperatures makes, not only in the garden, but in my outlook!  There are so many beautiful surprises that it is hard to choose only six!  Here’s the first selection.  Although the earliest daffodils were battered by winds, snow and hail, these later ones are absolutely perfect!  Daffodil “Avalon” below…Daffodil Avalon And Daffodil “Dolly”  Daffodil dolly  There are many more varieties, but these are my favorites for this bloom period.  Secondly, the first tulips have opened First tulips 4-28-18 and even though they aren’t exactly the color I expected, I love them anyway.  Tulips have such grace and courage, and they are worth the effort of battling bunnies and deer who also love them, but not for their beauty!  Three is that it was finally dry enough that I could get a load of mulch.  Mulch load  It may not be beautiful, but I was thrilled to finally be able to begin mulching.  Remember, I didn’t get fall work done due to my back, so the gardens went into winter in sad circumstances.  Getting things tidied and mulched brings me great joy.  And in the process of mulching, I discovered number 4, these Muscari macrocarpum “Golden Fragrance.”  Muscari Golden Fragrance  According to my records, I planted them here two years ago, but this is the first time I remember seeing them.  Number 5 is my new plaque for my Lady Cottage, made by my pottery-artist friend Patti Beck.  Seize the day  And lastly, another recent purchase is this  “Harvest Guard” crop cover  Harvest Guard pkg purchased just in the nick of time…..the gooseberries in bloom and newly planted things are going to need it…it’s going to go down to 29 degrees tonight!  Oh joy!

For more interesting “Six on Saturday” contributions, visit The Propagator, the instigator of this muse and helpful host.

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